If I ask you: “who are the most creative people you know?” I’m sure you’ll come up with a handful of people. But why does it seem to be limited to only a happy few? What are the skills they seem to master better than anybody else? Let’s begin to scratch the surface and to identify a really important reason why creativity seems to be rare.
Going back to the initial question, there is a group of people we all know to be extremely inventive and above all, each individual possesses unlimited resources of creativity. To nobody’s surprise these are children.
If you think back to your childhood, some sweet memories will return. They are sweet, because in your own mind everything was possible when you were a kid. There were no constraints in your thinking, allowing you to pursue your dreams and to be whoever you wanted to be. Heck, you were able to fly or to change the frog into a prince. Conventional thinking was absent and without boundaries in your thinking process you were able to create your own little fantasy world. In that world, the line between reality and fiction was very thin and you were able to easily switch between both.
It’s summertime and the weather outside is gorgeous. It’s perfect for your little boy – who’s about 4 years old – to learn how to ride a bike. So you go to the store and ask the store manager for advice about safety and to show you the most popular models. After some consideration you decide that only the best bike would be appropriate for your kid because you don’t want to be labeled as cheap or be perceived as an unconsidered parent for such an important gift (by the way a nice example of social judgment driving your purchase behavior).
You want it to be a surprise so you ask the store manager to put it into a big box, gift-wrap it and finish it off with a nice, big ribbon. The store has gone the extra mile in gift-wrapping the present and it just looks amazing. A rush of impatience kicks in because you are so eager and curious to see your boy’s reaction and to witness his first attempts to ride this beautiful bike.
When you arrive at home, you try to sneak in the house to surprise the little one. Unfortunately, the gift isn’t actually that subtle and hard to hide, so before you even get to the front door, the kid is already outside and his eyes are filled with excitement. Oh yeah, they must have spider senses when it comes down to receiving presents… You witness the kid's patience to gradually vanish – just like snow melting in the sun – and so you decide to give him the present. After all, it is to be used outdoors.
It’s a big and daunting box, but it stands no chance. The curiosity and excitement inspires the little one to frantically unpack the gift. The ribbon flies through the air and the paper wrapping gets shredded into little pieces. The unwrapping intensity is just insane and takes up so much energy from the boy that you hear him gasping to air. Suddenly a brief pause occurs. You notice a slight hesitation as he has come to the final stage – the ‘unboxing’ of the present. Slowly the box is opened and it reveals its well-kept secret. The beautiful bike appears.
The moment he takes the bike out of the box, a feeling of contentment washes you over. Everything is going according to plan and your excitement increases. The imagined visions of the kid’s first ride attempts return and fill up your mind. But then, all of a sudden, something unexpected happens. It perplexes you completely and you can’t believe what you are witnessing! The kid puts the bike aside and takes off with the box…!? Totally dumbstruck, you witness how the kid plays with the box rather than the bike. What the … just happened?! Flabbergasted, you wonder whether you purchased the right bike.
Let’s take a closer look:
Here is what’s going on. The bike is a ‘defined object’. It’s exactly what it states – a bike, an object that helps you to go from A to B leaving little room for imagination. The box on the other hand is less defined and allows for infinite creations within the kids’ mind. It becomes a castle, a spacecraft, a ship, etc. Children don’t like to spend their time in a constrained and well-defined world because it limits their imagination. They rather spend time in a world they create themselves in which they can explore their dreams. The un-defined box is just a trigger unleashing their creative juices and allowing them to create their own little world. Completely free from judgment, children are in a unique position to take chances and to pursue their creative thinking. They do it fearlessly and without thinking about the potential consequences.
I’m sure you have all witnessed or experienced a situation where the child embarrassed its parents only because he/she was unaware of what is socially acceptable. Without the filter of what is ‘socially correct or acceptable’, children are unconstrained in their thinking and they act according to their beliefs. That is why they will blurb out the truth sometimes leaving their parents red faced from embarrassment.
Many of us – as adults – seem to have lost the ability to use our imagination or to behave without constraints. Where did this go wrong? The answer is simple; we’ve been conditioned to squeeze “thinking and acting differently” out of our system. When we grew up, we were taught to listen and to follow rules – especially at school. Every exam we have taken only allowed for one correct answer – as if every problem in life only has one solution?! If your answer deviated from the teacher’s solution, you didn’t get the grades and so we basically got incentivized to slowly but certainly kill our creative thinking and to succumb to conformity.
The conformity pressure starts early in life and goes well beyond school. It is all around us and the impact it entails cannot be underestimated! Social judgment and expectation reinforces conformity. We often succumb to peer pressure because if we don’t, we feel insecure and a feeling of discomfort overwhelms us. To regain our comfort, it’s easy to accommodate to what others are expecting from us and not listen to our inner voice or our gut feel. It’s remarkable how easily we give into social pressure. Simple lab tests, led by Asch Solomon (already in 1950's), have proven the power of social pressure on our behavior and thinking. Consequently, we often betray our inner voice within our everyday life. If we don’t wear specific clothes, don’t speak the same language, don’t like or practice the same sports, are not aligned with the group thinking etc. social judgment ruthlessly kicks in, creates fear and pushes us to fit in and to conform! It suppresses every creative flavor within you and ensures that you alienate more and more from who you truly are. Social judgment is like a band-aid described in the previous post. It will often generate or enhance efficiency and will lead into the establishment of a social identity. Its impact is huge, because it is continuously self-incentivizing in order to ensure its existence. As a result, we are constantly bombarded by it and it’s no surprise that we have become more and more alike! It’s hard to escape it, but fortunately not impossible!
Being aware of how we got to conform in the first place feels like the ‘red pill’ from the Matrix where Neo decided to see the truth allowing him to act and to change the world! Obviously, you always have a choice and can decide to take the blue pill, but remember, this will keep you enslaved to conformity! I refuse to believe that you want to pursue this path if you are reading my blog.
So now that you have taken the red pill, it is time for you to “find your inner child”. It’s still within you, but it’s in a dormant state. Just wake it up!
The moment you have re-discovered it, your creative juices will flow again. You’ll be able to re-open your mind and explore untraveled paths of thinking. Your imagination and passion will kick through the roof and you will feel braver, bolder and more empowered to follow through your own thoughts and actions. Above all, you will (re-) gain confidence in trusting your inner voice and gut feel. It will be the start of a new and exciting journey in your life.
Once you’ve re-ignited your inner child, you will no longer be powerless against social judgment. The control it has over you will gradually wear down allowing you to generate real impact and to make change happen!
"Who’s your daddy now social judgment?!" It’s your creative MoJo, fueled by your re-discovered inner child unleashing your creative juices.
In my next post, I'll describe some of the characteristics and skills that will help you to unleash and to empower your inner child so that you can sparkle your creative juices. If you already have (re-)activated your inner child, I would love to hear your stories and the impact it generated within your life.
In the meantime, go and increase your creative success rate!
PS: just to re-assure you, the bike will be used and the kid will love it!
© Niels Chabot, Nutz & Creative